The Inquisitor's Wife: A Novel of Renaissance Spain
Seville in 1481 is a dangerous place, especially for individuals of the Jewish faith. The Inquisition, intending to eradicate conversos --- Christians of Jewish decent or those who practice Judaism in secret --- from Seville is watching everyone closely. No one is safe from their prying eyes. Neighbors distrust neighbors, willing to turn in friends to stay safe, swearing on pain of torture they have seen others practicing a forbidden religion.
"If you’re a fan of Kalogridis, as I am, this is a book to curl up with. If you’re a fan of historical fiction and like a setting that’s sad and terrible on one hand and fascinating on another, give it a try. Kalogridis works a bit of her fiction magic on the Inquisition."
Marisol Garcia, a conversa on her mother’s side, marked out with her dark hair and olive skin, leads a very sheltered life. Her father, a well-known and fairly well-respected member of Seville society, helps to hide a secret of his wife’s that can get the family killed --- she secretly practices Judaism. Marisol, innocent and naïve, doesn’t understand what her mother is teaching her in secret, but when she becomes old enough to understand, she disowns the practice and, to a certain degree, her own mother as well. When the Inquisition’s threats hit close to home, Marisol’s once happy and idyllic life comes to a tragic end with the supposed suicide of her mother and public announcement of her Jewish faith.
Knowing only too well the danger Marisol now faces, her father hastily marries her to their neighbor, Gabriel Hojeda, a civil lawyer with the Inquisition, hoping that his position will serve as some protection to her. Knowing what a cruel person Gabriel can be, Marisol fights the marriage, not accepting her father’s insistence on the arrangement and believing that he too has forgotten her. Still nursing a broken heart from a romance that was broken off, the death of her mother, her father’s strange coldness toward her, and her sudden nuptials, Marisol is stunned by the turn her life has taken.
When her childhood love returns to Seville, Marisol’s life becomes incredibly complicated. Not only is her marriage even more peculiar, she soon discovers a secret of her mother’s and begins to see for the first time the danger she is in. When asked to sing for Queen Isabella, she finds herself trapped between the life she wants but can’t have, and a future she doesn’t even want to imagine.
Marisol is a naïve girl thrown in with vipers. I was waiting for her to be eaten alive, but Jeanne Kalogridis doesn’t write women who fall over and wallow in their sorrows for long. Her characters get up and go all out in a fight, and I can respect that. I’ve never been a fan of the fawning female characters in historical fiction who surrender; maybe that’s why I’m a fan of Kalogridis. Her women can be heartless and brutal, and though Marisol was adrift for a while, she figured out fairly soon what she needed to do to survive.
One of the reasons I like historical fiction so much is the court intrigue, and there’s a few fulfilling scenes in this book. Isabella is the serene and sincerely pious queen Marisol expects her to be, but it’s her ruthless and cruel behavior toward the citizens she has promised to protect that makes her menacing. Marisol gets an extreme education in the value of appearances and trust.
I do wish THE INQUISITOR’S WIFE was a slightly longer book. I would’ve liked to see a few of the storylines expanded, but this could also be my saying in a roundabout way that I wanted more. There’s some romance, some intrigue, some heartbreak --- basically the full roster of what I like in my historical fiction. It’s a satisfying read. If you’re a fan of Kalogridis, as I am, this is a book to curl up with. If you’re a fan of historical fiction and like a setting that’s sad and terrible on one hand and fascinating on another, give it a try. Kalogridis works a bit of her fiction magic on the Inquisition.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on May 10, 2013